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After shaky start, backup goalie Antti Raanta stands tall

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers

Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers takes the second period shot against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Dec. 6, 2016 in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh posted the first three-assist game of his career in Tuesday night’s 4-3 comeback victory over the Ottawa Senators and has 21 helpers to lead the team.

But after the game, the captain’s performance took a back seat to goalie Antti Raanta, who stopped all 24 shots in the final two periods for his ninth win after a shaky first period.

“He made some incredible saves, especially in the second period and in the last five minutes,” McDonagh said. “It was great to see him rebound and refocus. It can be tough to give up the first two shots of the game, but he stayed with it, he always does. He competes.”

Coach Alain Vigneault defended Raanta’s opening period, when he allowed three goals as the Rangers fell behind 3-1. “Two of the three he couldn’t see,” Vigneault said. “We didn’t do a good job of boxing out or blocking shots. We had to step up and put our big-boy pants on and go out and battle.”

Even Derick Brassard, who hit the post in the third, tipped his cap to his former teammate Raanta, who had allowed seven goals against the Penguins last week and three more in relief of Henrik Lundqvist against the Wild.

“I knew after those two, he was going to bounce back,” Brassard said. “He’s a small goalie but he moves really well side to side. We have to give him credit in the second and third periods. When the crowd is behind the team here, and they make a push, it’s going to give them a second wind.”

Nash will accompany team on trip

Rick Nash, sidelined with a second groin strain, missed his third game, but is traveling with the team Wednesday for the two-game road trip to Arizona and Colorado.

“He hasn’t skated yet, I’d say he’s still day to day,” said coach Alain Vigneault.

The Rangers are scheduled to practice Wednesday and again on Friday in Arizona, so it is possible that Nash, 13-7-20 in 30 games, could play against the Avalanche on New Year’s Eve.

As for other injured Rangers, Pavel Buchnevich missed his 22nd game with back issues, and will remain behind to skate on his own. Mika Zibanejad (broken fibula), who missed his 18th game, is on the trip, but only because siblings of players have been invited. Henrik Lundqvist (flu) should be ready to travel.

Brandon Halverson was summoned from Hartford to back up Raanta and wore No. 75. Halverson, 20, has appeared in six games (3-3-0) with Hartford this season.

Skjei returns to lineup

Rookie Brady Skjei, a healthy scratch for the first time this season in the 7-4 loss to the Wild before the three-day break, was back in the lineup, paired with Kevin Klein. Skjei had an assist. Adam Clendening, who played 18:40 against Minnesota, was scratched . . . The Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line, which put up three goals and nine points in the 7-4 loss to Minnesota, had two goals and two assists . . . The Rangers were 4-for-4 on the penalty-kill . . . Nick Holden, who arrived here as a free agent from the Colorado Avalanche, leads all Rangers defensemen in goals with six.

Vigneault travels with Senators

Vigneault, who has a home in Gatineau, Quebec, was stuck there after a huge ice storm on Monday and was invited to return to New York on the Senators charter on Tuesday morning. He jokingly said he broke the travel dress code. “Only had jeans,” he said . . . Vigneault isn’t ready to break up the McDonagh-Dan Girardi pairing. “Ryan is one of the best defensemen in the league. They have lot of history, read off each other well,” Vigneault said. “When Dan is skating and moving his feet and making the right reads and playing with an edge, it’s a good pair to play against top lines.”

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